One year they returned from their morning feeding at 9:30 a.m., flying in so many V formations that linked and intersected that it looked like an enormous grid floating over the sky from the southwest. They landed in a frenzied splash near the reservoir boat dock, and I immediately fell in love with the snow geese.
The next year, hardly any were at the reservoir all morning.
This year, on a tip from state wildlife biologist Lynn Zubeck, I roamed the fields near the tiny farming town of Sutherland, a few miles north of the reservoir. At about 9 a.m., some fluttering a half-mile away caught my eye. Big blotches of white came into focus on the ground. Feeding time! I'd never seen them in the fields before.
At 10 a.m., I hurried to the reservoir to try to figure out where and when they might return. There is virtually no public access on the northern end of the reservoir — the most logical landing area if they're flying from Sutherland. My old watching spots — the boat launch and the dam to the south — didn't offer good views.
But from the seemingly public street corner of 2000 West and 500 North, about half a block from a large, and not subtle, "KEEP OUT Bird Watchers" sign, I suddenly heard honking overhead. Clouds of geese were approaching! Thousands landed in the northeast pocket of the reservoir between 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. Large flocks (Zubeck reluctantly disabused me of the happy notion that a group of snow geese are called a "blizzard") still were trickling in at about 12:30 p.m.
The geese take an afternoon rest and usually return to the fields between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., Zubeck said, but that depends on the weather. In heavy winds like we've been having, he warned, a lot of geese might not make two feeding trips.
As it turned out, I almost missed their grand afternoon departure. Geese already were swirling like reverse tornadoes out of the reservoir as I returned to my spot just before 3 p.m. Within a half-hour, most of them were off.
I can easily imagine eager would-be birdwatchers chasing around the countryside, anxious they will miss a special moment. The good news is, Zubeck and his colleagues have been tracking the flock's patterns all week, and they will be at a booth near the reservoir boat launch to direct visitors to the likeliest times and places of avian drama.
With 20,000 geese in town, you'll probably catch some of the action.